The Class of 1955 holds an impressive record—five of its members went on to win no less than six Pulitzer Prizes over the course of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. All six were won in non-fiction fields, covering issues ranging from the civil rights movement to Florida housing projects to the early years of the Vietnam War.
These writers, defying notions of 1950s naivete, began investigating even in their college days some of the most intractable issues of the post-war period, both at home and overseas.
While they seemed to subscribe to no particular unifying trend—their styles and topics varied from editorial writing to full-length popular histories—their work reflected a new interest in journalism as both criticism and social history, and explored in detail distinct elements of American life and foreign affairs.
WILLIAM M. BEECHER
As a Washington correspondent for the Boston Globe, William M. Beecher ’55 shared the 1983 Pulitzer Prize in National Reporting with several other editors at the Globe for “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age,” a special feature about the nuclear arms race. Beecher, who had covered U.S.-Soviet relations in Washington, says he helped formulate the idea for the feature and wrote the 8,000-word lead story for the 56-page Sunday special.
“I was very much interested in the U.S.-Soviet relationship,” he says. “As Washington correspondent I did a lot of work in that area.”
The prize was a late highlight of Beecher’s 30-year career as a journalist, during which he served as a Washington correspondent for a host of newspapers, including the Globe, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times.
But according to Beecher, the Pulitzer did not have a significant impact on his career. “I had a good career in Washington,” he says. “Having won a Pulitzer didn’t hurt, but I didn’t go around telling news sources that I’d won.”
“I wouldn’t say that it made a whole lot of difference,” he adds.
Nearly two decades before winning the Pulitzer, Beecher broke the story of the U.S. military’s secret bombing of Cambodia on the front page of the New York Times. The 1969 article, “Raids in Cambodia by U.S. Unprotested,” accurately described the first of the secret B-52 bombing campaigns in Cambodia.
“That was one of the most important stories that I broke in my career,” Beecher says. “It was something Nixon and Kissinger tried to hide from the Congress and the public, and we broke it on page one of the New York Times.”
While at Harvard, Beecher was the features editor of The Harvard Crimson, and also worked as a campus correspondent for the Globe and the Boston Herald Traveler. Beecher says that he came into college with a strong interest in the field, having worked for his high school paper.
But he says that a journalistic career wasn’t always a certainty. “I thought that I was either going into journalism or law,” he says, while adding that newspaper writing ultimately seemed more exciting. “I thought I might be bored in law, but I knew I wasn’t going to be bored in journalism.”
Beyond journalism, Beecher has had a varied career. In 1990 he penned “Mayday Man,” a novel about espionage and foreign intrigue, and has seen the media from the other side of the lens while working in government. He served as the Defense Department’s acting assistant secretary for public affairs, and he served for 10 years as director of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Office of Public Affairs.
Beecher currently works as a principal at the Dilenschneider Group, a Park Avenue strategic communications firm.